Attempted Coup in Turkey: Weekend Thread (Updated)

[CN: Military violence, death.]

I'm opening up this thread for weekend updates on the situation in Turkey. Please keep it image-free and be careful to give appropriate content notes for comments.

As of Saturday 9 AM ET, it looks as if the government has succeeded in quelling the coup attempt, aided by police, some elements of the military, and those citizens who heeded President Erdoğan's call to rise up against the coup. At the Guardian, Jaimie Grierson summarizes:

At least 194 people died in the coup, including 41 police officers, two soldiers, 47 civilians and 104 people described as “coup plotters.” Erdoğan, who returned to Istanbul in the early hours of the morning from his holiday in the resort of Marmaris, said the attempted coup was “treason” undertaken by “a minority within our armed forces”.

Prime minister Binali Yildirim said on Saturday that legal changes would be considered to reintroduce the death penalty to deal with coup-plotters. He called the plot “a black stain” on Turkish democracy.

There have been mass surrenders in Istanbul, with around 50 soldiers on Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul abandoning their tanks with their hands raised.

The head of the armed forces, General Hulusi Akar, who was reportedly taken hostage, has been freed.

Two Turkish majors, a captain and five privates have requested asylum in Greece after landing in a military helicopter. Greece’s defense ministry has said a Blackhawk helicopter carrying seven Turkish military personnel and one civilian landed in the city of Alexandroupolis earlier Saturday. The passengers asked for asylum and were arrested for illegal entry into Greece.

The Guardian also reports that the leaders of Turkey's three largest religious communities--president of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, Istanbul Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomeos and the Chief rabbi of Turkey’s Jewish community--- have released a joint statement condemning the coup.

Al-Jazeera has reactions from around the region:

Iran's Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, said "coups have no place in our region and are doomed to fail," on Twitter. "Deeply concerned about the crisis in Turkey Stability, democracy & safety of Turkish people are paramount. Unity & prudence are imperative," Zarif added in another tweet.

The head of the largest opposition party in Turkey, Kemal Kalicdaroglu, of the centre-left People's Republican Party (CHP), has come out against the coup in a series of tweets, saying the country has "suffered a lot" in past military takeovers.

Qatar "expressed its strong denunciation and condemnation of the military coup attempt, lawlessness, and violation of the constitutional legitimacy in the Republic of Turkey", according to a foreign ministry statement.

The Telegraph also reports:

Israel, which last month approved a deal to restore ties frozen after a deadly Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound Turkish ship in 2010, also condemned the coup attempt. "Israel respects the democratic process in Turkey and looks forward to the continuation of the reconciliation process between Turkey and Israel," said foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon.

At the BBC, Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen gives a very brief summary of reasons behind the coup which seem a decent brief introduction for those who aren't familiar with Turkey's politics:

The attempted coup happened because Turkey is deeply divided over President Erdogan's project to transform the country and because of the contagion of violence from the war in Syria.

President Erdoğan and his AK Party have become experts at winning elections, but there have always been doubts about his long-term commitment to democracy. He is a political Islamist who has rejected modern Turkey's secular heritage. Mr Erdogan has become increasingly authoritarian and is trying to turn himself into a strong executive president.

From the beginning Mr Erdogan's government has been deeply involved in the war in Syria, backing Islamist opposition to President Assad. But violence has spread across the border, helping to reignite the fight with the Kurdish PKK, and making Turkey a target for the jihadists who call themselves Islamic State.

That has caused a lot of disquiet. Turkey has faced increasing turmoil and the attempt to overthrow President Erdogan will not be the last of it.

Erdoğan seemed determined to blame followers of Fethullah Gülen. Ayla Jean Lackley, a Reuters journalist in Turkey, tweeted:"PM Yildirim, flanked by top general, says any nation that now backs Islamic preacher Gulen, in exile in US, is Turkey's enemy." That sounds like it is going to get awkward.

Vox has an explainer on Gülen which is really pretty good:

Fethullah Gülen is an imam (Muslim religious leader) who was born and raised in Turkey and has been active since the 1960s and ‘70s. He preaches an inclusive brand of Sunni Islam that emphasizes cooperation and tolerance; views modernity as broadly compatible with Islam; and, above all, stresses the importance of education outside of narrow religious schools. More than anything, the Gülen movement (which is also known in Turkey as hizmet or "the service") is known for its schools. They are ubiquitous in Turkey but have also spread abroad to countries like Pakistan and even the United States. Indeed, Gülen-affiliated groups run over 100 charter schools in the US — the largest charter network in the country.

The schools emphasize math and science, and avoid proselytizing. "They prescribe a strong Western curriculum, with courses, taught in English, from math and science to English literature and Shakespeare," the New York Times’ Sabrina Tavernise wrote of the Pakistani Gülen schools in 2008. "They do not teach religion beyond the one class in Islamic studies that is required by the state. Unlike British-style private schools, however, they encourage Islam in their dormitories, where teachers set examples in lifestyle and prayer." Gülenists insist they believe in secular democracy, and they have relatively progressive views on many social issues: For instance, boys and girls are educated on equal footing in Gülen schools. The movement stresses interfaith cooperation, and Gülen had a good relationship with Pope John Paul II, spurring criticism from more conservative Muslims in Turkey.

The article explains that Fethullah Gülen was a key ally in Erdoğan's rise to power but that disagreements emerged by 2011, exploding in 2013 when key Gulenists accused AKP officials of widespread corruption. The whole thing is worth a read.

It's important to note that representatives of Fethullah Gülen's movement completely deny any responsibility or involvement. And Gülen himself has condemned the coup in strong terms:

“Government should be won through a process of free and fair elections, not force,” Gülen said. “As someone who suffered under multiple military coups during the past five decades, it is especially insulting to be accused of having any link to such an attempt. I categorically deny such accusations.”

Alliance for Shared Values — a pro-Gülen group — also rejected the allegations, calling the comments made by Erdogan’s supporters “highly irresponsible.”

“For more than 40 years, Fethullah Gulen and Hizmet participants have advocated for, and demonstrated their commitment to, peace and democracy. We have consistently denounced military interventions in domestic politics. These are core values of Hizmet participants. We condemn any military intervention in domestic politics of Turkey,” the group said.

In short, there is a very strong possibility that Erdoğan is going to use the coup as a pretext to settle old grudges and increase his authoritarian rule. In a worrying sign, the judiciary is already being purged:

The Turkish government has embarked on a purge of the judiciary following the botched coup, state TV reports, in the first sign of how last night could increase Erdogan's authoritarian rule.

NTV said 2,745 judges had been removed from duty, following a decision of the High Council of Judges.

Five members of the High Judiciary Court Board were also removed.

Obviously, on top of the remarks about reinstating the death penalty, this is a concerning sign. The aftermath of the 1980 coup in Turkey was hundreds of thousands of arrests. People were tortured, some simply disappeared, and there was a round of repressive crackdowns on travel, on government employees, on media, and more. Over 300 journalists were attacked and three murdered. That's all fresh in people's minds in Turkey, thanks to the 2012-2014 trials of key leaders, including Gen. Kenan Evren, president from 1982-1989.

Far from viewing coups as any sort of normal and non-concerning part of their political process, for many people in Turkey there are fresh memories of the suffering brought from military overthrow. If there is widespread belief that these plotters were cut from the same cloth, Erdoğan's reprisals may have support. On the other hand, for those already concerned about Erdoğan's authoritarianism and hostility to Turkey's secular, democratic heritage, his treatment of the accused coup-makers may be be seen as an alarming sign that things are going to get very grim for those who dare to dissent against the government.

However things proceed, there is great anxiety, as well as relief, in Turkey today. My condolences to the families of those who lost their lives last night, and my thoughts are with those who were injured in mind or body.

Updates as of 2 PM ET

More analysis is starting to emerge. The BBC has a very helpful post from Turkish journalist Ezgi Basaran, who is currently an academic visitor at Oxford. Basaran explains why this coup really took most people by surprise, and runs down a list of possible parties behind the coup, including Kurdish groups or Erdoğan himeslf (as a false flag operation), as well as Gülen supporters (whom the government is blaming.) There is a really good explanation in it of some of the key divides in the Turkish, particularly between the Kemalists and the Gülenists. I draw your attention to this, because US media doesn't usually bother to explain that there are more than two sides in foreign politics:

Another theory embraced by the Kurdish movement is that Kemalists - secular followers of the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk - in the army tricked the Gulenists into staging a coup. They knew it would fail and that it would lead to a long-awaited cleansing of Gulenists from the military.

Another theory stems from a police source, who said that the AKP[note: Erdogan's political party] government had been planning to arrest Gulen-supporting army officials on 16 July. The source claims that when the coup-plotters learned about this, they went ahead and initiated the coup earlier than planned - hence the sloppiness.

Basaran explains that there is conflicting evidence to support either the Gulenist or Kemalist theory


...[U]sing violence - let alone staging a coup - is not the Gulen movement's typical modus operandi...[T]he movement has resorted to methods like wire-tapping, fabricating evidence and smear campaigns.

...[T]he statement of the junta, that was forcefully read on the official government TV as the coup got under way, bore a strong resemblance to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's famous address to the Turkish Youth. The coup plotters also called themselves the "Peace at Home Council", which is derived from Ataturk's famous saying "Peace At Home, Peace In the World". On the other hand, given that these references are too obvious, they may have been intentionally included to insinuate a Kemalist junta rather than a Gulenist one.

I think this is very helpful for USian readers, because our press so often frames politics in majority Muslim countries in binary terms. "Islamist" vs. "secular," for example, really doesn't account for those who believe in a religious, but liberal, state.

The Turkish government's blame on Gulenist forces does have important implications for relations with the U.S. As reported by Bradley Kalpper in the Independent, John Kerry had a statement about possible extradition of Fethullah Gulen:

The Obama administration would consider an extradition request for the US-based cleric that Turkey's president is blaming for a failed coup attempt, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday. But he said Turkey's government would have to prove Fethullah Gulen's wrongdoing.

Erdogan has long accused Gulen, a former ally, of trying to overthrow the government. Washington has never found any evidence particularly compelling previously. “We haven't received any request with respect to Mr. Gulen,” Kerry told reporters. “We fully anticipate that there will be questions raised about Mr. Gulen. And obviously we would invite the government of Turkey, as we always do, to present us with any legitimate evidence that withstands scrutiny. And the United States will accept that and look at it and make judgments about it appropriately.”

“I'm confident there will be some discussion about that,” Kerry added.

Turkey's neighbor Greece is also in a potentially tense situation, as eight soldiers allegedly involved in the coup fled there and have requested asylum. Pakistan Today reports The the Greek government will return the helicopter but is processing the applications for asylum normally. Other reports say the Greek foreign minister Nikos Kotzias has promised to return the soldiers "promptly."

Finally, CBC's Brian Stewart has some thoughts on what the coup means for Turkey's immediate and medium-term future. Obviously, we can expect political uncertainty, perhaps upheaval, but I thought these were good points to bear in mind about how this will impact Turkey's economy:

This lurid night of military-civilian violence will further push back the country's increasingly slim hopes of gaining membership in the European Union. Many EU members have quietly resisted Turkey's entry for reasons ranging from human rights abuses to too prominent a military role in society.

Foreign visitors account for almost 10 per cent of Turkey's GDP, while more than 30 million visitors a year helps employ two million workers. Serious instability can only devastate this sector and severely undercut the country's economic strength.

The country has been hit with 16 terror attacks in just a year — many ISIS-directed or inspired, some others the work of Kurdish militants. Many of the attacks are clearly directed at foreigners to maximize Turkey's loss of income, especially the recent Istanbul Airport attack that struck at the central nervous system of Turkish travel and tourism.

Even before the coup attempt, Turkey expected a 40 per cent drop in tourists this year, a major blow to national revenues. Some of that loss was also due an absence of Russian visitors during the standoff between Russia and Turkey over the shooting down of a Russian warplane by Turkey.

I continue to give my thoughts and empathy to the people in Turkey grappling with all this. I'll try to give an update if more significant facts or events emerge this weekend.

Please feel free to leave updates or reactions in comments, with appropriate care for the safe space.

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